Monday, August 31, 2015

Zero Sum Game

My theory that you can't be happy in work, romance, and family/pets remains intact.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Interview with two cats

A while back, when Y first got her cats (we'll call them B and V, they can decide whether they would prefer to reveal their full names), Sancha talked about possibly interviewing them to get a sense of the feline perspective on things. Sadly, that interview never happened. Y asked if Chip would be up for it, but as discussed in the previous post, Chip is not ready for journalism school. His main line of question involves: "Can I gnaw on  your legs?" and really, he just goes ahead and does it, he doesn't ask first.

However, I was rummaging around in the boxes I still haven't unpacked despite living in my current house for over a year, and I came across a notebook. I didn't recognize it as one of mine, so I opened it up and found, in rather shaky but still legible script, Sancha's journal! More of a commonplace book, really--collections of recipes she wanted to try or liked, some doodles, ideas for blog posts, and . . .

a list of preliminary questions for the B and V interviews!

I'm not sure if these would have been the final questions she planned to ask or if this was a rough draft, but barring further notebook discoveries, I thought I'd copy them down here and let B and V respond. So, from beyond the grave, Sancha asks:

1) Dale and Y are imagining that this interview will be about the dog vs. cat perspective on the world? But do you identify yourselves primarily as "cats"? Or are there are other elements of your identities that you feel are more important to you? Has your identity been stable over time or has it changed (and if so, how)?

2) What do you like to eat? How do you like to eat it?  I cohabited with a cat once and it was the strangest thing--she was used to having her food out in a bowl all day and she would just nibble a bit here and there. And I was supposed to let a bowl with delicious food sit on the floor unsampled. Does that make sense to you? Can you explain it?

3) You two are siblings and have always been together. I left my litter as a wee pup and have never been particularly fond of other dogs. What does it mean to you to live together? How do you relate to each other differently than you relate to Y and B? Also, as someone who is very attached to a single human, I am curious what it is like living in a two-human family? Do you relate differently to Y and to B?

4) You two, from what I hear, don't go outside much. Are you curious about what's beyond the front door? If you could have a day free to do anything you wanted outside, what would you do? Anything you'd like me to investigate and report back on?

5) Describe your perfect day.

6) What do you dream about?

There are some more, but Chip beckons...

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sancha and Dale and CHIIIIIPPPP

There have been many changes since I last blogged. Or one change, really.

As you will note, he looks a lot like Sancha. Which explains why I adopted him upon sight and why I did not stop and ask myself important questions like: do I want a puppy? does this dog have any training whatsoever? is this dog compatible with my lifestyle? will this dog enjoy blogging?

A month and a half later, I would say the answers are: too late now, a little bit, time to change your lifestyle, and not even close to the required attention span.

Chip looks like Sancha...and the resemblance stops there. Let me give what I think is a representative example. When Sancha saw a pillow, her instinct was to curl up on top of it and go to sleep. When Chip sees a pillow, his instinct is to drag it around the house and if possible remove its stuffing. His incredible ADHD is actually his saving grace, because he can't focus on anything for long enough to actually destroy it. And he is quite responsive to "No!" He just can't remember what provoked a "no" for more than 5 minutes. Somewhere Sancha is laughing hysterically.

I confess that for the first few weeks (or mostly weekends--he is in doggie daycare during the weekdays and I can get some work/me time, but weekdays he requires pretty constant stimulation/attention), I was missing Sancha pretty fiercely. But I've started to appreciate Chip for who he is (although don't get me wrong, I'm still counting on him calming down some once he reaches a year!) And this is what I've learned:

Absolute Joy.

When Chip is happy, which is 99% of the time (I like to think he registers some not-happy feelings when I chastise him, but he certainly doesn't dwell on them), he is SOOOO HAPPY. If the guy for Dos Equis is the Most Interesting Man in the World, then Chip is THE HAPPIEST DOG IN THE WORLD. He is also the friendliest dog in the world. We go to the dog park every day (which has to be the greatest invention of the 20th century) and he loves everyone. Big dogs, little dogs, dogs that don't like any other dogs, dogs that want to play fetch, dogs that want to hump, dogs that want to be humped while playing fetch....he plays with them all. He can do up-close wrestling playing. He can do long-range running playing. And when I am done (because he is never done. The other dogs get tired. He does not) and want to go home, HE IS THE HAPPIEST DOG GETTING HIS LEASH ON.  And THE HAPPIEST DOG DRINKING WATER. And THE HAPPIEST DOG GETTING INTO THE CAR.

I don't think Chip will be blogging any time soon. First of all, literacy is a long way off. But even if we could get an app that translated his thoughts to a blog, I don't think he's been doing a lot of philosophical reflection. Y had a quote from her stepmother (stepmother-in-law? Y's family is complicated!) on her Twitter that says more or less "If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are in the now." I'm not sure I agree with this 100%, but it is true that I am a historian and I tend toward melancholy and I would guess that most philosophical thinkers and reflective personalities do. Chip is so "in the now" they could rename the now after him, call it being in the chip. When I think of being "at peace" I think of calm and serenity, and that is not Chip. But I think he has his own ecstatic peace. Not good for blogging, but a good thing to have as a model in my life.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Bright side of grief: for Y

There is something lovely about cross-blog dialogue with friends...

Y, who lost her father this spring, posted recently on her blog (to which I cannot provide a link cuz she's all private and stuff. She's probably one of possibly 3 people who will read this anyway) about the "upside of grief." Something I've been thinking about--what follows is the rough draft of a stream-of-consciousness meditation. Don't expect conclusions or convictions.

Maybe there are two kinds of grief.

Every life naturally includes death and loss, even unexpected death and loss. But (as Donald Rumsfeld would have it), there are expected unexpecteds and then there are unexpected unexpecteds. We will, in the natural order of things, lose our grandparents and then our parents. Teachers. Mentors. We will outlive our pets, unless we own turtles. It doesn't hurt any less at the moment of loss to know that this is the natural order of things, but I think it means that there will be a natural arc to our grief, and it will emerge into an "upside." The upside may be nothing more than the human tendency to learn from experience. What does not kill us makes us stronger precisely because it did not kill us. We get through it, we are reflective beings, we look back on how we got through it, and thus we gain in self-knowledge and emotional depth...and hence, we are stronger.

But you never hear someone say after losing a child, or their entire family in a bombing raid, that it made them stronger. There are deaths that, because they invert the natural order of who-dies-first, or because they pile on top of each other and fresh grief interrupts past grieving, never get processed into stages of grief, or narratives that dip down into dark places and then emerge into upsides. The privilege of living away from war, away from mass urban violence, protected from disease epidemics and the immediate impact of natural disasters, is not that we will never know grief, it is that we will only get to know the grief that we will be able to make sense of.

I write this as I work on a chapter of a book dealing with the first century of Spanish colonization of Mexico. In the annual kerfluffle over Columbus Day, or when Mel Gibson made Apocalypto, it is inevitably suggested that the Spanish conquest wasn't all that different from the Mexica (the group ruled by Moctezuma, commonly referred to today as Aztecs but that's an anachronism) conquest of the ethnic groups of central Mexico in the century prior (or the Inca conquest of the Andes during the same period, or the Maya in Southern Mexico and Central America centuries before). It is true that the indigenous Mexicans practiced ritual warfare and sacrifice; the Spaniards certainly did not introduce warfare or violent death to the peninsula. But --- steel yourself, huge leap here --- these wars, which fit into a religious narrative and had set codes and calendars--made sense to the participants. Families surely grieved for lost loved ones. But it was a grief that made sense, that you worked through and processed and found an "upside". That "upside" may have been quite distinct from the personal narrative of self-discovery and inner strength that Y or I might find today from the deaths of our father or dog. But the point is, the Spanish conquest (especially because of the introduction of epidemics) was that other kind of grief--the kind that "unmade the world," that didn't fit into a "natural order of things" (in quotes because what seemed "natural" to the indigenous Mexicans might in no way seem natural to us now) and thus provided no opportunity for natural recovery, natural resilience, natural narratives. There certainly are, even today, indigenous communities in Mexico that have preserved their language and customs (and, it's worth mentioning, there are historians who challenge the unmaking-the-world narrative of the conquest). But I don't think you'd find too many that look back to the conquest and find an upside.

So the Tigers traded away Austin Jackson today for David Price. Ajax wasn't my #1 favorite player (that would be Victor Martinez, on the current roster) but he was in the top 5. Time will tell which kind of grief this is.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

RIP Dekker

Crazy crazy sad coincidences.
I was halfway through a Sancha adventure post I started yesterday about taking her to pick out my mom's fancy schmancy new puppy over Xmas (her Xmas/60th bday gift from me and her husband). The story was mostly about Sancha's adventures with said puppy's food the day after, but now it will have to wait.

We saw the litter, but they were too young to take one home  At that point we didn't know which one would be my mom's, but a few weeks later my mom went back and got Dekker. He has been doing wonderfully: happy, friendly, healthy. About a month ago my mom asked if I could take him December-March because she was going to England. So I was looking forward to having a little white floofball in my life...A few days ago, my mom texted me that he was "turning into a real dog. Less work but fewer moments of pure joy." (I responded that we had noticed the same thing about her over the last 15 years, she said to give her 15 more and the childlike wonder would return...)  This weekend my mom and her husband were flying to Cape Cod for her father's bday--it was to be Dekker's  first stay at a boarding facility.

According to the people at the facility, he had a great day...and then this morning, he didn't wake up. The vet confirmed that there was no trauma or any sign of abuse or attack. His lungs had collapsed. No idea why. 8 months old.

On my first night in Chicago, a little over a week ago, I posted about how similar everything felt to my trip here in May, when I got a call the first morning... when nothing terrible happened on morning 2, I thought I had dodged a bullet. The bullet just veered 3000 miles west.

RIP Dekker. Give Sancha my regards and keep her company.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Sancha as process

While helping J transfer books from boxes to shelf in his new place (and I cannot emphasize enough how little actual help I provided, since my need for coherent organizing principles, plus my interest in reading the books themselves, impeded progress in the physical population of the shelves with books. At best, I lay the groundwork for future transference of books to the shelves. I was to the unpacking process what Marx was to the Soviet revolution...) I came upon a bunch of books about something called "process theology." I had never heard of it before, but per J's explanation (and I should emphasize here any fundamental misunderstanding I have of the movement is entirely my own fault and not J's) I get the sense that the main idea is that all life, and all reality, consists of "processes." It sounds a bit to me like Pythagoras's theory of metempsychosis, or the transmigration of souls, although here rather than souls moving from being to being through reincarnation, it would be the minute elements of matter and experience that migrate from being to being. (Side note: Pythagoras' philosophy, or perhaps just in Ovid's parody of it, calls for vegetarianism, on the theory that the soul of the cow you eat today might have once belonged to your grandmother. I was never clear on why it couldn't go the opposite way and legitimize cannibalism, on the theory that the soul of the grandmother you eat today probably once belonged to a cow.)

I was thinking about all this as I sat down at the library Friday because I had finally come sufficiently prepared for the subarctic temperatures of the reading room and had on socks, long pants, and a (fake) wool sweater. I don't have much occasion to wear (fake) wool sweaters in New Orleans in the summer, so I hadn't worn this one in some months, since before Sancha died. It hadn't been in the Sancha sweater box (those sweaters are beyond wearability) but no sweater in my apartment escaped Sancha's effervescent furriness. And as I sat down in the reading room and took stock of my appearance for the first time that day (yes, I should get in the habit of doing this before I leave the house. Yes, my failure to do so has led to some rather hilarious wardrobe errors), I realized that I was covered with Sancha hair.

If any living thing was a constantly evolving, mutating, transmigrating process, it was Sancha. Sancha's hair had the vitality and life cycle that would put the Amazon jungle canopy to shame. I never gave Sancha a haircut and Sancha's hair never grew. She just molted. It was not a seasonal thing--she kept up her furry regeneration all year long, and when she got nervous, she revved into molting overdrive, sometime to the point of disappearing inside a little cloud of Sancha fur. Think Pigpen from the comic strip Peanuts. I almost never had to give her a bath because any fur that got dirty on a walk would have been completely replaced by a new layer of shiny clean velvet by the time we got home.

Sancha was supposed to make this trip to Chicago with me. We would drive in my fur-carpeted car to stay in the dog-friendly Airbandb and we would explore the dog parks and sausages of Chicago together. In the end I came alone, flying in a dog-hair-free plane and only able to stand on the edge of the dog parks and stare wistfully. But as I sat in the library and stared down at the sizeable collection of dog fur on my chest and arms, I realized that in some sense, in the sense of Sancha as process, Sancha had accompanied me after all.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Deja vu

A little over a month ago, I flew to Chicago for a conference. The conference began Thursday and I arrived Wednesday afternoon, so I had time to walk along Millennium Park and the Loop, sit at a café and read a bit, and drink in a beautiful late May day. I bought a stamp at  7-11 and mailed a birthday card to Y (I can't find anywhere that sells single stamps in New Orleans). In the evening I retired to my Airbnb room and watched some of a White Sox game.

Today I flew in to Chicago to begin a month-long research stint at the Newberry. I arrived after the library was closed, but with time to walk around the River North neighborhood, admiring the architecture of the Loop, and sit and read for a bit at a café. It is a beautiful July day. I went to a 7-11 and bought a stamp to send a birthday card to my grandmother. Afterwards I popped into a bar to watch some of a White Sox game, and then retired to my Airbnb room for the evening.

At 6:30 am on the first  day of the conference, I was awakened by the phone call from the petsitter, telling me of Sancha's fall.

I close my eyes with  superstitious trepidation. Friends and loved ones: please be extra careful where you step tomorrow!